For the first time ever, state lawmakers are encouraging constituents to Tweet them or post a message on Facebook rather than make the trek to Hartford for legislative hearings being planned to examine the response to Tropical Storm Irene.
"This is the first time we've used social media in conjunction with part of the public hearing process," Derek Slap, a General Assembly spokesman, said. "We understand that the legislative hearings are sometimes not very convenient for people. Many people have already been greatly inconvenienced by the tropical storm. So we wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to participate."
Slap said social media will also allow for interactivity, with constituents able to offer and get answers to their questions in real time. Those questions and concerns can and will then be brought directly to the legislators, Slap said.
The hearings before the legislature’s Energy & Technology, Public Safety, Labor and Public Employees, and Planning & Development committees will convene on Sept. 19 and 26. The committees will hear from representatives of utility companies, workers, communications firms and municipalities, as well as from members of the general public.
"There's hardly a person or business across the state that didn't feel the impact of Irene," said House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden. "We need to understand what worked and what didn't in terms of how we prepared and how we responded. I expect these hearings will be productive and forward looking and will serve us well for the next, inevitable punch from Mother Nature."
On Sept. 19, representatives of CL&P, United Illuminating and and municipal utilities will testify in a hearing that will start at 9:30 a.m., followed by municipal representatives and officials from telephone, cable and wireless utility companies. The hearing will conclude at 4:30 p.m.
On Sept. 26, members of the public will have the opportunity to appear before the committees beginning at 9 a.m., followed by union representatives and the electric utility companies. The public will have an additional chance for comment before the hearing closes in early afternoon.
"We have a responsibility to better understand what went right and what went wrong after Irene and why,” said Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, who also chairs the Energy & Technology Committee. “We must examine what needs to be done to be better prepared for future events that undoubtedly will happen."
Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, co-chair of the Energy & Technology Committee, said the hearings need to answer questions constituents have about the storm response.
"People who had to wait for a week or more need some satisfaction in knowing why it took so long for their power to be restored," she said. "The delay went far beyond mere inconvenience; many people need electricity to pump well water to their homes and for other health requirements."
Patch also has created a Facebook page where the public can share their storm experiences.